- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

Born a Catholic. Raised a Catholic. Still a Catholic.

At 88, Martha Streater has no regrets about her lifelong commitment to her faith or her church — St. Vincent De Paul in Southeast, which she has attended and served since 1929, long before the Navy Yard and large buildings took over the area.

“Used to be all little housing, now it’s nothing but government buildings,” she said.

However, one of those large buildings, the new Nationals Park, will soon bring the leader of her faith, Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope will celebrate Mass on Thursday at the recently completed Nationals Park baseball stadium, which is just blocks from St. Vincent. Only 14,000 tickets are available, many of which have been distributed by lottery through the 120 dioceses in the United States.

Mrs. Streater said the expected crowds and traffic will keep her from attending, even should she get one of the 20 tickets her church will give to parishioners. Still, she hopes to catch a glimpse of the pope the day before, when he will meet with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast.

“They can give me a ticket, but they can’t do anything else,” she said, acknowledging that the stadium atmosphere might just be too much for her.

Mrs. Streater drives about an hour every day from her home in Waldorf to attend Mass and goes to church meetings in more locations than she can name. She also arrives at 7:15 a.m. to church every Sunday to help prepare for the service.

She also washes the church linens, visits the sick and has worked as the church’s housekeeper under several priests. She even serves as one of St. Vincent’s Eucharistic ministers, preparing Communion and sometimes serving it if the priests are not present.

Brother Marx Tyree, pastoral associate at St. Vincent, said he doesn’t know what the church would do if she weren’t around.

“She does things that our younger generation doesn’t understand today,” he said. “I hope I can do all she does at her age.”

Mrs. Streater, a retired widow and the last living member of her siblings and parents, is candid about what motivates her.

“The good Lord, nobody else,” she said, chuckling. “Woke me up this morning and started me on my way.”

Mrs. Streater dislikes staying in her house and hopes she is an example for younger generations. Her lifestyle also requires perseverance and a willingness to work even through fatigue.

“I’m tired all the time,” Mrs. Streater said. “I just keep going. Go to bed tired and get up tired.”

Much of her perseverance was learned through her mother, whom she calls one of her greatest inspirations.

“She was a strict Catholic,” Mrs. Streater said. “We lived in the country and had to walk a thousand miles to get to church. We walked through the snow — we didn’t care how cold. We never missed a Sunday.”

Mrs. Streater acknowledges that her faith hasn’t always been rock solid, particularly during her 20s when she “turned away” from the church. During that time, Mrs. Streater said, she would go to parties on weekends and could not wake up for church on Sunday.

She struggled to explain what eventually brought her back.

“I wonder sometimes myself ‘cause I was there and I used to go to parties all the time,” Mrs. Streater said. “All at once, well, it just came to me that I should be at church.”

Her son, James Harper, with whom she lives, has followed in her footsteps and is a regular usher at St. Vincent. However, none of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren or great-great grandchildren still attends church, despite all being baptized in the Catholic Church in their childhood, she said.

Mrs. Streater has tried to get them to return but thinks they find it “too dull.”

“Hurts me to my heart,” she said. “There was nothing I could do. They were grown.”

Mrs. Streater and Mr. Tyree say the issue goes beyond their family, and they wonder about who will keep the church alive when the older generation passes.

“I try to tell them to try to come to church and be active in the church,” Mrs. Streater said. “A lot of the things that I do after a while I won’t be able to do it, and I wonder who is going to take over.”

Her message to the younger generation is but a few principles that have guided her life.

“Trust in the good Lord. You got to pray, you got to pray. You got to pray and ask the Lord to help you because a lot of the times, if you don’t, you’ll be in bad shape.”


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